Saturday, July 07, 2007

BBNP Photo Report ~ The Rio Grande Floodplain

The Big Bend of Texas is encompassed on the Southwest, South, and Southeast by the Rio Grande separating the park from Mexico. The river enters the region dramatically by slicing it's way through Mesa de Anguila climaxing at Santa Elena Canyon on the western edge of the park.

The river winds through various low deserts creating a floodplain ecosystem. This low elevation ecosystem sits at around 1800 feet. Grasses, forbs, reeds and riparian trees/shrubs are common creating somewhat of an oasis in this desert. Many animals call it home, including the Bob-kitty (Lynx rufus). Here is a track in the Rio Grande mud.

In addition to riparian vegetation, many desert-like plants live in the floodplain including Huisache or Sweet Acacia (Acacia farnesiana).

The Rio Grande floodplain bisects deserts, the Mariscal Mountains, and more deserts before entering the Sierra del Carmens on the eastern edge of the park at Boquillas. Most of this region is only accessable via the river itself or the chassis destroying "River Road" made famous by Edward Abbey's essay "Dissorder and Early Sorrow", a great read for the explorer of wilderness. Below is a photo of Boquillas del Carmen. Boquillas translates from Spanish as 'opening' or 'mouth'. Thus this canyon means "opening to the Carmen mountains."

As we hiked into Boquillas canyon, we were treated to Spanish songs ringing out through the air, bouncing off the canyon walls. It was Victor, the singing Mexican, plying his craft.

Since 9-11, the Mexican town Boquillas has suffered economic hardships. Before the terrorist attacks, a ferry would carry American tourists into Mexico to eat, drink cheap beer, and purchase overpriced wares. Since then however, the park service has tightened down the border. Still, the Mexicans swim across the river early in the morning leaving merchendise to be purchased by Americans on good faith. They do keep a good eye on thier goods from the Mexican side though....note the binocs in Victor's hand above.
We saw/heard one of my favorite birds living on the cliffs of Boquillas: Catherpes mexicanus or Canyon Wren. Unfortunately, I've never taken a photo of this bird...still haven't.
I hiked up a sand dune towards this cave in the canyon, then 'skied' down. The deposite of sand was at least 200 feet above the river. Imagine the amount of water needed to do such a thing.
"Across the Rio Grande-O, Across the Lazy River" - Hunter and Garcia
The reed, Phragmites australis, is very common in the floodplain.
A red dragonfly on Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa. I love the color contrast in this photo.
Nicotiana glauca (tree tobacco) is cool looking but invasive in this ecosystem originally from Argentina.

This spring-fed beaver pond near Rio Grande Village is the only home in the world of Gambusia gaigei, an endangered minnow whos numbers were once as low as three individuals.

There is some arguement over which cottonwood is more important or common in the floodplain, Populus fremontii or P. deltoides. From what we could tell, deltoides is much more common. Here are thier cool looking leaves.

The Golden-Fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons) looking for food in a P. deltoides. Very cool!!

Earlier this century, Tamarisk or Salt Cedar (Tamarix pentandra) was imported from China as a windbreak for desert farms in the southwest. Since then, it has taken over many riparian areas in the southwest, from California to Texas. In many places it is out competing the cottonwoods by producing an incredible root system as well as leaching salts. I could not believe this giant salt cedar. My friend Ellen is seen here for size comparison.

Geococcyx californianus looking out for cannonballs, pianos and anvils.

Here is another view of Santa Elena Canyon, this time from the river. On the right is Texas; on the left, Mexico. Where should we put the fence?